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Falling Back On Your Plan

by Steve Zolotow |  Published: Aug 23, 2023


Steve Zolotow at the 2023 WSOPThe 2023 World Series of Poker has just ended. Nearly two months of playing poker every day has left me exhausted, but before I take some time off for some rest and recuperation, I also need to review my performance.

In the month or so before the series, I spent some time studying poker and developed a general plan.

My goal was to play about 20 to 25 events with buy-ins ranging from $1,500 to $10,000.
Why these limits? The smaller buy-in events attract huge fields that require excessive amounts of exhausting play, and quite a large share of good luck to survive. Even then, cashes are small until the final table.

An extreme example was the $300 Gladiators of Poker event that drew 23,088 entries. A player would have to make the final two tables, beating out all but .0008 percent of the starting field before they could cash for just two $10,000 buy-ins.

Then again, the biggest events put me under a lot of bankroll pressure. It’s sensible (comfortable) to have a bankroll of approximately 100 buy-ins, and very few players have appropriate funding to play tournaments with entries of $25,000 or higher.

I also planned to focus on events with the same starting times, so I could follow a more or less regular schedule. I thought I would also have time to play some of the lucrative cash games on days when I was knocked out of the tournament early or didn’t have an event to play.

I tend to play quickly, so I also planned on taking a little more time on most of my hands, and a lot more time when I had a difficult decision to make.

Most importantly, I planned to play my A+ game the entire time.

Just before the series started, I decided to play a $1,000 H.O.R.S.E. tournament at the Wynn and cashed, making the final 10. I felt I was playing very well, so I decided to take a shot in the WSOP $25,000 no-limit high roller, but ended up losing an annoying hand to bust just short of the money.

Nothing is as boring as hearing about tough beats, so I’ll restrain myself from any others, but this one was too brutal not to share.

I raised from the cutoff with A-K offsuit, sitting on just under 20 big blinds. The button and big blind both called, and the flop came down K-4-3 with two clubs. Actually, you know what? The details are irrelevant. Long story short, I got it all-in with the button and lost.

I tripled my buy-in in the small tournament, and lost it in the big one, but the damage was done. I was hooked. Now a tsunami of tournaments was coming at me, but at least I had my plan.

My fellow columnist Alexander Fitzgerald brought up a quote from the great boxer Mike Tyson in his column, and it fits here as well. Tyson was set to take on Evander Holyfield, who was said to have an elaborate fight plan. When asked if he was worried, Tyson replied, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth!”

Well, I got punched in the mouth. After 10 days, I found myself playing too many tournaments. Some were small buy-ins, some were big. Some had early start times, some had late. And variance wasn’t being kind. I was losing not only most coin flips, but even in situations where I was a big favorite. I was tired, and frustrated, and after two weeks, I started to make some bad reads and questionable decisions.

Which brings me to some words of wisdom from a different Mike, ‘Crazy’ Mike Caro, who said, “When you are playing well, you know that in the long run, your decisions matter and will be reflected in your bottom line.”

Caro pointed out that when you are losing more and faster than you expected, your mental and emotional pain can pass a point he called The Threshold of Misery. When you pass this point, you feel that your decisions don’t matter. The reality is that they still do matter, so you must regroup and return to playing well.

I was definitely at this threshold. I like to enjoy myself when playing. I’m social and like to chat, make bad jokes, etc. So when I find myself getting grumpy and annoyed, it is a very bad sign.

I took two days off, relaxed, went to the gym, and had dinner with friends. When I returned to the series, I felt more comfortable and, even though my bad luck continued, I played (in my honest opinion) very well in the remaining events (too many) that I entered.

Playing the seven weeks of the WSOP is a little like going to a lavish casino buffet – it is very hard to be disciplined.

Steve ZolotowSteve ‘Zee’ Zolotow aka The Bald Eagle or Zebra is a very successful gamesplayer. He has been a full-time gambler for over 40 years. With two WSOP bracelets, over 60 cashes, and a few million in tournament cashes, he is easing into retirement. He currently devotes most of his Vegas gaming time to poker, and can be found in cash games at Aria and Bellagio and at tournaments during the WSOP. When escaping from poker, he spends the spring and the fall in New York City where he hangs out at his bars: Doc Holliday’s, The Library, and DBA.